Settler-soldier refuses to “expel Jews”

Move over, Yoni, there’s a new kid in town. Sgt. Avi Beiber made headlines June 28 when he became the first Israeli soldier to refuse to act against Jewish settlers living illegally in the Occupied Palestinian Territories — like himself. Beiber, who was born in the US, lives with his parents in the illegal settlement of Tekoa in the occupied West Bank. He was sent along with his unit to destroy 11 beach bungalows built by Egyptians when the Gaza Strip was in Egyptian hands before 1967. The IDF feared that settler youth might try to occupy the houses. According to Bieber and journalists at the scene, when he realized what he was being asked to do, he went through a crisis of conscience and started shouting “Jews don’t expel Jews.” His rifle was taken from him and he was arrested, and slapped with 56 days in the brig for refusing an order. 12 other soldiers also refused, Yediot Aharonoth reported, although the IDF denies this. Bieber explained he “didn’t come to the country to expel Jews from their homes,” and that he was a “conscientious objector.” When fistfights and shoving matches developed after anti-disengagement protesters swarmed to the site, Bieber refused to get involved, leaving his fellow soldiers to take the blows from the settlers. Footage of Bieber’s moment of refusal was shown on TV channels 2,4, and 7 in New York City, and Bieber’s father received congratulatory calls for his son’s actions from Brooklyn.

“I didn’t enlist in the IDF in order to destroy communities or prepare the ground for the destruction of communities,” said Bieber. His father said “He’s a human being. He saw that his commanders were beating Jews, and he’d never seen anything like that in his life. He did not do this because of politics. He did it because he is sensitive, and because he cares, just like you would care if you saw someone beating someone else.”(Haaretz, June 28)

But Bieber’s settlement, Tekoa, is built in violation of international law and convention in the occupied West Bank near Bethlehem. Settlers from Tekoa have beaten local Palestinians, shot at motorists, and burned Palestinian crops. Tekoa is being connected to other settlements and Israel by Jewish-only “bypass roads” which started construction in 2003 and are stealing thousands of dunums of land from nearby Palestinian villages.

The following is just a smattering of Tekoa’s community-destroying behavior towards area Palestinians during the last four years:

Hear Palestine reports settlers from Tekoa setting fire to Palestinian agricultural crops near the settlement. Villagers say the settlers have taken advantage of the closure imposed on the village, which prevents them from reaching their farmland. (FMEP, Sept. 2001)

On May 29 at 9am, settlers from Tekoa, south east of Bethlehem, attacked farmer Khaleel Jebreel, 55, who was injured in his left eye. Khaleel was taken to the hospital in Beit Jala and was placed in the intensive care room because of the seriousness of his injury. Khaleel reports that three of the ‘security men’ of the settlement attacked him while he was working in his land near Tekoa. The settlers used the back of their guns in their attack and also stoned him. They left him on the ground bleeding from his head and eye. He was later evacuated by a Palestinian ambulance to the hospital. (Alternative Information Center, June 4)

A settler from Tekoa shoots two Palestinian motorists, injuring both. (Arutz 7 May 27 2001)

An investigation conducted by B`Tselem since the beginning of the harvest season indicates that most of the attacks were perpetrated by the residents of a relatively small number of settlements, and usually in olive groves surrounding the settlements. The settlements involved are: Itamar, Bracha, and Yizhar, including their satellite outposts to the south and southeast of Nablus; Kefar Tapuah, which is situated on Road No. 60 to the northeast of Salfit; Shevut Rachel and Eli, including several adjacent outposts, close to Road No. 60 north of Ramallah; Tekoa, to the southeast of Bethlehem; and Pene Hever, which is situated northeast of Yata in the south of the West Bank. Violent attacks also occurred in other places throughout the West Bank, though on a less systematic and protracted basis. (Btselem, Nov. 2002)

Similar land confiscations are taking place a short distance away, close to two settlements southeast of Bethlehem: Tekoa and Noqedim. Last summer, some 4,000 Palestinian villagers at Zatara discovered that a substantial bypass road had been approved through their lands to connect the two settlements with Har Homa, a recently completed “city settlement” north of Bethlehem.

According to [Peace Now’s Dror] Etkes: “The road is pure incitement. It has no purpose other than to steal land and instill more hatred in Palestinian hearts. When Israel is still investing so much in the settlements, it is difficult to believe it is really serious about the road map and a Palestinian state.” (Palestine Monitor, July 11,2003)